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Is Europe Always the Right Move For American Soccer Players?
Some Americans find that it’s not always a European vacation
Like Major League Soccer is finally starting to come into its own, American players have to make a tougher call about their careers than in years past. Now, an American player can have a solid career in the US, or, they can use the extended MLS game to mature and gain notice and access to a higher level of international competition. Europe is a big draw for American players, but it’s not always the right answer.
It’s a tough call, a call that can make or break a career, a call that can bring success to Tim Howard or Clint Dempsey, and can relegate the player to a dubious future just as easily as Freddy did. Come on. or Eddie Johnson.
When an MLS player gains the attention of big clubs in Europe, as Adu did with Manchester United and Benfica, but then fails to get playing time and is loaned out to smaller clubs where success is just as difficult to be found, the move to Europe may have hurt them in the long run.
In the case of Adu and Johnson, they have failed to find a foothold with their respective European clubs. Are they developing as footballers and as people? Sure, but is that what they need at the start of their promising career or would they be better served with the current minutes on the pitch in MLS?
This is not an easy question to answer and each individual’s situation will be different. Recent history is littered with examples of ML stars finding success in Europe. Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Oguchi Onyewu have all found undisputed success in Europe. However, quality players such as Freddy Adu, Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson have struggled to get playing time and find success at Europe’s big clubs.
With MLS on winter hiatus, LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan and Houston Dynamo’s Stuart Holden are heeding the siren call of European clubs. While their situations are different, with Donovan heading out on a fairly secure two-and-a-half-month loan at Everton, Holden is weighing up the merits of a long-term deal to play for Premier League side Bolton Wanderers.
Donovan, in a smart move, signed a four-year deal with the Galaxy before making a foray into England’s top flight. If he has a poor loan spell, he will continue to have his main role with the Galaxy and the US Men’s National Team. If, on the other hand, he has an impact with Everton and they, or another EPL team, want him enough, you will see the same type of negotiations that teams in Europe and South America are used to seeing for the transfer of the star. the players. The loan deal for Donovan could be seen as a way to stay in top form for the upcoming MLS season and the World Cup. Regardless of how Donovan does on the pitch at Everton, this is a win for him that rules out anything but a serious injury.
For Holden, however, the stakes are higher and the decision less obvious. If Holden decides to leave MLS for England like Dempsey, McBride and Adu before him, the judgment of whether it was good for his career will be based on the resulting impact he has for Bolton.
Managers in the Premier League are under immense pressure to win, and if a player can make an impact and help the team get results, the player will get time on the pitch and be successful. If the coach feels that the player cannot help the team win now, the player will not get minutes. Falling on the pitch won’t help a player like Stuart Holden. He needs to be on the field to develop.
Holden has also reportedly been offered a new contract to stay in Houston that is roughly ten times what he was being paid before. Houston’s new offer is around $350,000, but Bolton’s offer could easily exceed that. Holden, aged 24, has other issues to consider than money and he stated that he is taking the “long view”, with his overall career as the focus.
Currently, Holden looks like a front-runner for the US men’s national team as it prepares for the World Cup this summer. But if he makes the move to Europe and is riding the bench and not playing, it could hurt his chances of making the grade for Bob Bradley as he picks the squad for South Africa. The USA has a pool of talented midfield players to choose from.
Holden’s contract with Dinamo expires on December 31 and he has said he would like to make a decision by the first day of the new year. When January rolls around Donovan and possibly Holden will have the chance to prove themselves on England’s wet and cold pitches. How their respective moves turn out for both is something that will be judged by results on the field.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. Looking back, would Freddy Adu have been better served playing a few more years in MLS? The answer is a resounding… maybe.
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